Duct tape has been called the perfect mix of utility and cost, but a $2 roll of the sticky, flexible, tear-resistant, silvery-gray troubleshooting adhesive could cost two companies $2 million.
Erie Insurance Co. has sued Jan Realty Corp. of Pelham Manor and Total Realty Associates of Yonkers in federal court for alleged misuse of the fix-it-all.
Legend has it that the material was called “duck tape” in World War II for its quality of repelling water like a duck’s feathers. It was meant to be used for water-proofing ammunition crates, but GIs quickly adapted it to fixing stuff in the field.
“Duct” replaced “duck” when the tape was used after the war to seal duct work.
Books have been published about the all-purpose DIY material, extolling imaginative uses from home improvements to arts and crafts to health care.
Astronauts take it into space; it is credited with saving the crew of Apollo 13, who used it to fix a failed filter. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has recommended that Americans assemble disaster supply kits that include duct tape for use in terrorist attacks.
But Erie Insurance claims that it was the duct tape that caused the disaster. Someone rigged electrical wiring in an apartment building at 89 Elm St. in Yonkers, splicing and duct-taping an extension cord, plugging it into a living room outlet and running it through a wall and into a bedroom.
On Oct. 7, 2016, a fire broke out in the apartment and spread to the building next door at 91 Elm St., owned by El Rina Realty LLC. Seventy-three people were evacuated from three buildings, according to a Journal News story, and 89 and 91 Elm were left uninhabitable.
The duct-taped extension cord had been installed in violation of national and local electric codes, the complaint states, and it caused the fire.
Erie paid a $1,943,615 insurance claim to El Rina. Now it wants Jan Realty, the owner of 89 Elm St., and Total Realty, the property manager, to pay back that sum for allowing a hazardous condition.
The lawsuit accuses them of negligence.
“Of course the landlord denies any allegations of negligence in connection with the fire,” attorney Nicholas Leo said on behalf of Jan Realty.
No one from Total Realty replied to a telephone message requesting comment.
“Extension cords must never be used in place of permanent wiring,” Erie’s complaint states.
“Extension cords should never be spliced together and duct-taped through a wall.”